World Agility Championships
Oporto, Portugal - 5th-7th October
FOR THE first time ever this year, we were able to send an official team to the World Agility Championships. This is an FCI competition which has been running in its present format for about seven years and during this time it has become more and more popular with more and more countries competing. This year there were 28 countries represented with most countries sending a team of four Mini handlers and four Standard dog handlers plus some reserves. The countries represented were:
South Africa - Germany - Argentina - Austria - Belgium - Brazil - South Korea Croatia - Denmark - Slovenia - Spain - USA - Finland - France - Netherlands England - Israel - Italy - Latvia - Luxembourg - Mexico - Norway - Poland Portugal - Czech Republic - Russia - Sweden - Switzerland
There is no doubt that this is THE most exciting agility event that a spectator or competitor could attend. Each team brings a party of supporters with them with obviously the host country and those adjacent to it normally having the largest contingent except in the case of the USA, who this year had over 80 supporters as well as the team. From the UK this year, there were about 30 of us including the team members. And, of course, every country dresses appropriately to represent their national colours so you had the USA with everyone dressed in stars and stripes, the Dutch contingent dressed in orange, including orange wigs, and so on for all the teams. Us Brits of course took our little flags with us and the team manager Steve Croxford had arranged special polo shirts that all the supporters could buy apart, of course, from the fact that our team dressed in red, white and blue, the same as every team dressed in their country's colours.
The process for selecting the team this year was that the Standard dogs were to be taken from the top dogs in the qualifying list for Crufts 2001 and the Mini dogs were to be taken on the same basis from the qualifying list for the Eukanuba competition for Crufts 2001. Because the choice of dogs had to be made so early to ensure they could be processed through the Pet Passport Scheme, which takes seven months, it was not really an ideal situation to pick the team one year in advance and I believe the Council are now working on changing the system but as with all these things it takes time to refine such procedures. But in saying all this, our team included some of the top dog handlers in the UK and the pressure on them was going to be enormous.
Our Standard dog team this year were all handling border collies and consisted of Greg Derrett with Fern Sproglett, Nicola Garrett with Hocus Pocus, Terry Insull with Magical Madge and Lynne Ward with Waggerland Flicka. The reserve for this team was Jo Rhodes with Moravia Red October. Our Mini team had two miniature poodles, a border terrier and a CKCS and consisted of Mary Ann Nester with Idadoun Black Buttons, Nicola Williams with My Haven's Fancy Footways, Christine Smith with Teasel Aslacton and Richard Wagner with Janspal Mister George.
The unenviable job of managing the team was taken on by Steve Croxford who, considering he had no previous experience of managing an operation like this, did a superb job. He arranged for the team to fly out from Gatwick on the Wednesday after making special arrangements with British Airways to take all the dogs on one flight. He arranged the team hotels and I think we were the only team to take our own vet with us, but then we are the only country to have something like the Pet Passport Scheme and I think everyone was concerned to ensure that the dogs could travel there and back trouble free - and travelling back could have been a problem! There are only a couple of airlines who fly direct to Oporto and of those two British Airways was the only one who would take all the dogs on one flight and they only fly from Gatwick which is not a Pet Passport airport. So on the return journey on the Monday, the dogs were taken from the airport to a quarantine kennels for the night and on the Tuesday a MAFF vet was taken to the kennels to scan the dogs' microchips and check the paperwork before they could be released. Quite a responsibility for Steve to organise!
The Thursday was an acclimatisation day and going to a local dog training club for some practise ready for Friday which was the official practise day at the Rosa Mota Arena. This was situated in a very very picturesque park called the Palais de Crystal which overlooked the estuary of the river Douro. The arena was principally used for basketball and that type of sport and had tiered seating to accommodate about 6,000 spectators. Most of the Friday was taken up with team practice, with each team being allocated 20 minutes in the arena when they could do anything they liked, either setting up the full course to run or training on individual sequences of equipment. The British team was allocated a starting time of 4:00 pm and hence did not arrive at the venue until lunch time. Once they arrived, the dogs had to be examined by the show vet and have their FCI required record book examined - each dog that runs at FCI agility events has to have a record book where every place gained at a show is entered and this has to be produced at every agility event the handler attends. And of course this was the time that Steve was to have his briefing from the show organisers and meet the judges.
FCI dog agility equipment is not dissimilar to our own but the jumps are slightly lower which means that dogs can flatten over the hurdles more and hence go somewhat faster. The other main difference is that there is a slightly bigger gap between the weaving poles. However, the basic judging rules are exactly the same as our own.
The judges this year were Jos Olsen from Norway and Luis Narciso from Portugal and the FCI delegate supervising the show on behalf of the FCI was Wilfried Claes from Belgium. Each year at the championships the host country will invite a judge from another country and provide a judge themselves. The Friday finished off with a welcome dinner in the restaurant at the venue. What happens at this dinner is really dependent on what the host country wishes to spend on it and how much trouble they wish to go to in organising it. Certainly this year it was a very low key affair with no speeches of welcome which was really sadly missed. But I have to say the food which was a hot and cold buffet was superb. Last year at the championships in Finland, some people walked out because the food was, let us say, not as good as we would like but the year before in Dortmund the gala dinner was outstanding and was more like a 'posh ball' with speeches, entertainment and an excellent meal.
The team event consisted of an agility round and a jumping round with the scores accumulated. Each team ran four dogs in Mini and Standard with the best three scores counting and also the handlers competed in individual agility and jumping, again with the scores accumulated to find the top individual dog and it was in these individual events that the reserves brought by the team could compete as well. On Saturday, there was Agility Team Mini and Agility Team Standard followed by Individual Jumping Mini and Standard and on the Sunday was Jumping Team Mini and Jumping Team Standard followed by Agility Individual Mini and Agility Individual Standard and the judges alternated for each of the events during the two days.
The event would open on the Saturday with the Opening Ceremony. Each team paraded just like they do in the Olympics into the arena,. They were led in by a member of the Portuguese Kennel Club carrying a board with the name of their country followed by the team captain carrying a very large flag, in our case of course the Union Jack. All twenty-eight teams paraded into the arena and lined up to hear the opening ceremony speeches. Some years we have had entertainment as part of the opening ceremony which has included some kind of local folk entertainment but this year there was to be none. Fortunately, there was an English translation on most of the talking so at least we knew what was going on. These opening ceremonies are always a little tear jerking, especially when this year we could parade a team of our inis would struggle because their speed on the continent is phenomenal. But there were other pressures. A steady stream of trainers from the UK have been all over the world training agility and hence we are deemed to be expert throughout the world. Therefore when our Mini and Standard team were first in this competition, everyone who was there wanted to watch and there was definitely a quietening of the crowd as they waited with bated breath to see just how good we were. Then of course the team were running on carpet and I know complaints have been made about how slippery the carpet is at Crufts but this was little more than bedroom carpet. But it would become apparent that most of the teams from abroad had been practising hard on carpet so were at an advantage; they were also spraying the dogs' paws with something to aid their grip. It is also worth mentioning at this point that the courses set by the judges were slightly different to what the handlers were used to - they were definitely not as trappy as the handlers were used to in the UK and hence faster running. In every course that was set, there were two rigid tunnels and as Eukanuba was sponsoring the event they were black. When they were put into a tight U shape, some of our dogs did struggle with some refusals and an elimination at this point. The other memorable point about most of the courses was the angles that most of the judges put the weaves at from the previous obstacle and how many dogs from the rest of the world could be sent on to enter the weave and get it right.
The Swiss Mini team were the first in and immediately put everyone under pressure with the best three achieving clear rounds. USA were in next, again with the best three having clear rounds and all their team being shelties and I have to say there were some jolly fast shelties from a lot of the teams - a lot faster than we have in the UK. So into the lead went the USA. They were followed by the French who have probably the most outgoing and noisiest handlers in the world who finished on 15 faults and one of their dogs eliminated. Next came Slovenia who were eliminated and Sweden who had three clear rounds and went into second place. Then it was time for the British to enter the arena and, as I said, the eyes of the rest of the agility world were on them and the pressure was enormous. Mary Ann Nester was the first to go with her miniature poodle and it was soon apparent that the dog was not quite right. It certainly did look a little lame and had 5 faults as well as 8 time faults. She was followed in by Richard Wagner with the CKCS. Richard had a valiant try but finished with time faults. Third to run was Nicola Williams with her miniature poodle who went clear but with 1.68 time faults. And last to go was Christine Smith with her border terrier. This has been an extremely successful pairing but I am afraid that she was eliminated and this was to be the story of Christine's world championships. So it was not a good start for the UK - 17.71 faults in 138.71 seconds.
There were several excellent teams to run after us, including Finland who had three clear rounds, Belgium and Austria who just had minor time faults, thus the UK team finished this first round in 15th place out of the 20 Mini teams that started the competition. So after the first part of the Mini agility, the USA were in the lead closely followed by Finland at just 2 seconds slower.
Next to go were the Standard teams where we thought we would stand a better chance. Germany were first off but unfortunately had 10 faults followed by Luxembourg who had three clears in 119 seconds. Brazil ran third and then the moment we had been waiting for - the British team and I would think everyone in the venue was standing waiting to see what would happen. Greg Derrett produced a good clear round in 38.61 seconds, almost 9 seconds inside the course time. Second to go was Lynne Ward but unfortunately she had 5 faults for a refusal at the weave entrance which was at a very acute angle and this was not helped by the dog slipping on the carpet and she finished 4 seconds slower than Greg. Third to go was Nicola Garrett with Hocus Pocus with another clear round in 38.99 seconds and last in the team for us was Terry Insull with Magical Madge. Unfortunately he had 5 faults at the tunnel, again this refusal was probably caused by slipping on the carpet and his time was 40.02. This gave our team a total of 5 faults in 117.62 seconds and actually put us in the lead at this point of the competition. We stayed in the lead until the eleventh team which was Switzerland who managed to get three dogs round clear in 115.44 seconds. Running thirteenth, the Americans came in and got all their dogs round clear in a very impressive 113.76 seconds and snatched the lead. As the competition progressed, some of who would have been viewed hot favourites bit the dust so after the Standard team agility the USA were now leading, both in the Standard and Mini team competition and in the Standard competition. Meanwhile, the UK was lying in fifth place and I think everyone was quite pleased as, with the jumping to go, it would be possible to improve on this and perhaps get onto the award rostrum.
In the second part of the Team competition on the Sunday, the Minis were again on first, only this time it was to be jumping with the scores from the previous day being accumulated. Lying in 15th position, we did not stand much of a chance of being able to take one of the top places but we were still hopeful of being able to improve on our performance. We were to run in reverse order, so the USA as the leading team would run last and we were running fifth. We were unfortunately at an automatic disadvantage before we started because after the previous day's Team run, on veterinary advice Mary Ann Nester withdrew her dog and did not run again. So Richard Wagner went first with his CKCS and had a clear round although once more a little on the slow side and getting 2.73 time faults. Nicola Williams put in a good run once again and improved on her speed so she went clear in 34.01 seconds which was inside the 35 seconds course time and the last to run was Christine Smith who unfortunately was eliminated for taking the wrong course. This would leave us at the end of competition third to last in 18th place.
Once more some of the hot favourites for this competition did not do as well as expected. The Finnish team had one elimination but three storming clear rounds; in fact, one of their dogs put in the fastest time in the competition in 28.54 seconds. Then last to run were the USA team and their four shelties. The first two dogs to go in the team went clear, the third was eliminated and of course then the last team member Barbara Davies knew the only way to win was to go clear in a fast time. Unfortunately she was not quite fast enough and they went into second place by just over 1 second. So Finland were the Mini Agility Team champions, closely followed by the USA and in third place, 8 seconds behind the USA, were Sweden in 216.68.
Next on the Sunday was the second part of the Team Jumping event where we were lying in fifth place after the agility section so we all had high hopes. USA were the leaders going into the second part so they would be running last and we were running fifth from last. So it was with bated breath we waited and I am sure the nerves of the handlers were suffering as they waited their turn. And there were certainly some good rounds to watch with some of the dogs getting three clear rounds to get themselves high in the places. Greg Derrett was going first once more with Fern Sproglett but was unfortunately eliminated which meant that the other three had to put in a good result to maintain our place. Second to run was Lynne Ward with Waggerland Flicka who had 5 faults in 35.22 seconds. Next was Nicola Garrett with 5 faults in 38.56 seconds and last was Terry Insull with 5 faults in 39.22 seconds. Not a tremendous result and I think we all agreed that in fact all our runs had been affected by slipping on the carpet but it would eventually see us in 10th place in this competition out of the 24 teams which competed in the Standard section. Austria were in seventh place and running eighteenth after the previous days competition, had one elimination and three superb clear rounds and took the lead, so all eyes were on the USA team who ran last. They were the only team who could take the title from the Austrians but they needed three fast clear rounds from their four dogs. They had already seen first place snatched away from them in the Minis so I think it was with some determination that Linda Kipp came to the line handling the first dog. She did a superb clear in 34.62, Linda Meklenburg came next with her border collie. She had a lovely clear in 35.31 then Steve Frick ran his border collie and although he had had an elimination the previous day, this time he stormed round clear in 33.19 seconds. This left Elica Calhoun who was running last for the USA but by then it was already in the bag with the best three results to count and although she had an elimination, the USA team had taken the title of Standard Team champions for the year.
Apart from the Team event of course there was the individual event where the agility and jumping rounds were combined the same as for the teams and the reserves from each team were allowed to compete in this competition. As far as the UK was concerned, our star dog handler in this was Jo Rhodes who, after the individual jumping on the Saturday was lying in 25th place but after the individual agility on the Sunday she had a good result and finished in 9th place overall.
If we have any memorable moments from this year's championships, it would be Greg Derrett's face when he got eliminated because, as we know, Greg does just not get eliminated! I would also have to remember the apricot poodle run by Elena Klokova from Russia who won the individual Mini Agility and came seventh in the individual Mini Jumping and in the combined result was the overall winner and when I say that this dog left the start line like a bullet from a gun, I am not exaggerating as she had the place in uproar. I also remember the little German Spitz from Russia handled by Svetlana Tumanova who came second in the Mini Agility and third place in the overall. And the final memorable part of the event was the venue being invaded by police on the Sunday lunchtime because news had just come out that the USA had gone into Afghanistan. So we had police all over the place on the Sunday afternoon which resulted in three teams having a police escort back to their hotel which were the USA, Great Britain and Israel and certainly I believe that the US contingent which consisted of 90 people had an armed guard until they boarded their plane out of Portugal.
The closing ceremony took place at around 8:00 pm on the Sunday evening and once more all the teams including our own paraded behind their national flags. Part of the closing ceremony was a presentation of gifts whereby every country involved brings along a gift which is given to another country. The FCI agility representative from each country makes the presentation and in our case Peter Lewis who was representing the Kennel Club made the presentation. This was followed by the presentation of the awards for the event.
This was the third World Championships Mary and I had been to and it was good that this year there were a lot of British supporters there. It is a unique event and I can tell you that the atmosphere in the arena with thousands of people from so many different countries bedecked in their national colours and waving flags is unforgettable. It was a great shame that our team did not manage to take any of the awards but as the Americans said when they came for the first time six years ago, they finished last in almost everything and it does take a different type of training so I am sure that a lot of lessons have been learned. So I expect us to make steady progress over the forthcoming years.
Next year the World Championships will be held in Dortmund, Germany and when they were held there two years ago the German Kennel Club made an excellent job of it so we are already looking forward to going there. Make a date in your diary - we think it will be the first weekend in October.